The latest strain of health tog pop-up to pop into my YouTube feed features a “cutting-edge FES-enabled ab stimulator”. Expertly refined by Navy Seals. Reviewed by electrode-wielding physicians with dubious accreditations. And “doctors don’t want you to know this”. Apparently.

Yet my curiosity to learn more of this ‘FES’ made me rather hesitant to press skip. Or perhaps it was the promise of a perfectly toned 8 pack. Anyhow, it provided good enough excuse to assess the wildest claims spouted by yet another robo-ad.


What is FES?

Our body naturally uses electrical currents to move our muscles. This contraction happens through the nervous system as our brain sends out electrical signals.

According to Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical centre, “functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a treatment method in which low level electrical impulses are applied to nerves or muscles”. The primary aim is to improve/restore muscle function.


How does an ab stimulator function?

Abdominal FES is essentially the application of electrical pulses to our abdomen. But who enjoys getting tickled on the belly?

Patients with spinal cord injury often require muscle strengthening training. Hence, an ab stimulator often sees use as a respiratory neuroprosthesis. Moreover, it doubles as a rehabilitation tool. Helpful for those who are paralysed.

The trigger device is around the size of your typical smartphone. This is then attached on top of the appendage around your waist. Electrodes then branch out from this control box to stimulate nerves that go to each of your abdominal muscles.


Can this electrode-enabled device accentuate my muscles?

Debatable. While it may indeed strengthen your abs, it’s no guarantee of a firmer 6 pack. (Or 8, if you’re hench like me.) But how about rapid loss of belly fat?

Crucially, several studies discount the spurious reviews that such devices trump over real exercise. In 2005 for instance, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse sports scientists conducted research to show marginal changes in waist size. Though “54% of participants responded that they felt it had improved their posture”. The sample size of 24 is nevertheless questionable. Larger studies are therefore necessary.


Side Effects

Are you still willing to undergo FES ab stimulation? Really? Are you sure? Then take note of these minor repercussions after long-term use:

  • pins and needles tingling
  • intense buzzing due to shock
  • skin irritation

How to minimise these uncomfortable sensations? Try adjusting the positioning of wires and electrode pads. But you’ve already done so? Well, your health professional may alternatively recommend using hypoallergenic electrode patches if the issue persists.



An ab stimulator won’t cause weight loss as many such adverts claim. And there is slim evidence to suggest your abs will significantly appear more firm.

More importantly, the process of burning fat entails burning more calories than consumed. Thereby creating a caloric deficit. We should thus turn to daily exercise instead! Plus healthy eating habits to maintain that trim and toned waistline goes a long way.

So get out. And exercise!



[ Wanna see more interesting applications of electrode-embedded smart togs? Then check out our previous article! Here, we explore whether smart clothing is in fact smart at all. ]